Poverty and destitution

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8–9

People who move to another country usually do so in order to improve their lives. Most newcomers to N Ireland come here and live successful lives, earn enough to live comfortably and contribute to and integrate well in local communities. A few are less fortunate. These include:

European nationals who come here without a job, or who become ill and lose a job before they have access to out-of-work benefits.

  • Most Europeans who arrive here have either been recruited in their home country by employment agencies or have some other firm offer of work. If they come here without a job offer, however, they will need to live on their savings. After three months, they may be able to get Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) for a short time, but only if they can prove that they have genuine prospect of work. If they cannot do this they may be unable to get a National Insurance Number, without which, most employers will not consider them. The situation is similar for people who become ill or lose their job before they have access to out of work benefits.

Non-European nationals (here on work visas) who become ill or lose their job.

  • Non-EEA nationals who come here on work visas come have no safety net if they become ill or lose their job. They can usually not look for other work or access out-of-work benefits until they become permanent residents after at least five years. Their visa is tied to the employer who sponsored them and so they cannot look for another job. They usually have no alternative but to return home.

People whose immigration status depends on a partner or spouse

  • If a person’s immigration status is dependant on thier spouse or partner, they are vulnerable if that relationship breaks down. If they leave the relationship, they cannot seek work. People may chose to stay in the relationship (even an abusive one) rather than face destitution.

People who are exploited in the workplace and part-time workers

  • This includes those agency workers on zero hours contracts. Trade unions and other support groups report the exploitation of foreign nationals who may be unaware of their workplace rights. Part-time workers, especially those on zero hours contracts, may have difficulty paying for transport, rent and living expenses when there is little work. It is especially difficult to find affordable childcare in rural areas.

 Irregular migrants with no permission to work here and trafficked people

  • If a migrant does not have permission to work here legally, they are especially likely to be exploited, financially and in other ways. People who are trafficked may be entirely in the power of others, with little or no reward for their labour, living in constant fear that they may be removed by the authorities.

People in the asylum system

  • Most asylum applicants are destitute when they arrive and until support begins. While their case is being heard they usually receive accommodation and £36.95 per week, which is difficult to live on. Some refugees also experience difficulty in accessing a job or getting normal benefits started when their application is successful, and they lose their asylum support. They often find it hard to manage rent and fuel bills. Refused asylum applicants lose their support and, if they cannot safely be returned home, they have to make a case for emergency assistance. This is usually denied so there are always a number of people here who are completely destitute at this stage, reliant on charity.

We strongly argue that destitution should never be an outcome of the asylum system, however for a number of reasons, some people do find themselves completely destitute.’ Neil McKittrick Red Cross NI, reported in the Belfast Telegraph, 6 September 2015

‘Migrants may not fully appreciate their rights and entitlements and so may be rendered more vulnerable if their employer operates with impunity … Migrants face additional barriers owing to fewer family and other support structures and connected to childcare costs and in-work poverty.‘ Dr Ruth McAreavey, Poverty and Ethnicity and International Migrants in NI; New Opportunities or New Vulnerabilities

The ICR [Institute for Conflict Research] highlights the debt bondage in the Filipino and Polish communities where workers have to pay fees to agencies in their home country quoting the case of Filipino nurses who owed several thousand pounds making them vulnerable to long antisocial hours.’ Quoted in Bronagh Hinds, The N Ireland Economy: Women on the Edge, 2011.